Breaking Newspeak: India’s Environment Ministry’s New Avatar

It’s official. In one of its early actions upon assuming office, India’s new government led by Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, has changed the name of the Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF). The new minister, Mr Prakash Javadekar, who today took charge of the ministry housed in Paryavaran Bhavan, New Delhi, will also carry on his card the interesting twist in nomenclature. Like his predecessors, he will continue to be Minister of State (Independent Charge),  but now he will be Minister of Environment, Forest, and Climate Change. And so, the MoEF now becomes MoEF-CC, if you will. Perhaps this signals that India will now take climate change more seriously and it is high time that we did so. Yet, if you read the following flurry of news headlines that appeared over the last few days, you might come to a slightly different conclusion.

As Modi’s new government gets to work, a promise to investors

Maharashtra hopes Prakash Javadekar to give green clearance, speed up stuck projects

Govt goes all out to woo investors

20 Projects Worth Rs 1.2 L Cr Await Modi’s Clearance

Industry looks forward to a new era under Modi

Maybe the climate change that the new, improved MoEF is going to take more seriously is change in the climate for business, industry, and investment.

Why should this be a cause for worry? Because, a lot of India’s forests are at stake in the rush to cater to industry. Even the previous government, although labelled as less responsive to industrial needs, actually allowed the clearance of a whopping 702,000 hectares of forest land over the last ten years chiefly for industry, infrastructure projects, and other non-forest uses. The new government already has pending clearances for over 830,000 hectares of forests awaiting its nod. If the MoEF, like earlier, remains under the shadow of the centres of power in the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Commerce and Industry, and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO), to name a few, what is the prognosis for India’s environment, forests, and wildlife? If the MoEF is now MoEF-CC, does it just mean everything that MoEF does will be CC-ed to the finance and commerce ministries and the PMO for their blessings?

What adds to my consternation is this video of the new environment minister speaking of the “very vital ministry” that is MoEF:

Environment protection and development is important: Prakash Javadekar

Behind his apparently well-intentioned words, their appears to lurk some Orwellian doublethink. Rather unwittingly, in something that sounds like a slip-of-the-tongue (or “What is that word I wanted?”), he says that some people think environment protection is ‘antidote’ to development, which he seems to almost disagree with! His last line is chilling.

…some people think that environment protection and development is antidote [sic!], they don’t go hand-in-hand. But I’m firm believer that both can go hand-in-hand. There is no contradiction in both the goals because these serves humanity. After all, poverty is the biggest disaster. So, India needs a window for growth and emissions and other things.
~ Prakash Javadekar

Although he does say that development and environment can go together, and talks of poverty as a disaster, he explains neither and it ends up sounding like the usual platitudes. After India has witnessed a decade of unprecedented forest clearance, after seeing entire landscapes and communities ravaged by mining in Goa and Central India and north-east India, after watching forests and wildlife habitats sundered or submerged by massive infrastructure projects from roads to dams (and even more proposed), it is hardly reassuring to hear the environment minister say, within a day of assuming office, that “India needs a window for growth and emissions and other things.” Unless, of course, this is malreported.

To be fair, it is too early to say anything about the minister or what the ministry will do. The Minister is known to have been actively involved in environmental issues, but also for being critical of the environment ministry earlier for not permitting industrial and infrastructure projects.

    Cleaving the forests: what is the real infrastructure? Roads, powerlines, and canals are just superstructures built upon the real infrastructure represented in human and natural capital.

Cleaving the forests: what is the real infrastructure? Roads, powerlines, and canals are just superstructures built upon the real infrastructure represented in human and natural capital.

Perhaps, the new minister will blaze a different path: one that is not ungood, involves no doublethink, one that it is not all Newspeak. The latter is especially crucial, as the same minister holds another key portfolio: he is also the Minister of Information and Broadcasting in the new government.

Still, it seems like a good idea to keep the antidote of environmental protection handy.

antidote ˈantɪdəʊt/ noun
a medicine taken or given to counteract a particular poison.

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